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Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Nigeria

This report from the UN Secretary General details the activities of Boko Haram and their crimes against children in north-eastern Nigeria. Click here and select your language for the full reading:

I. Introduction

1. The present report, which is prepared pursuant to Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) and subsequent resolutions on children and armed conflict, is the first on Nigeria. It covers the period from January 2013 to December 2016 and highlights trends and patterns pertaining to the six grave violations against children in the context of the conflict in the north-eastern region of the country.

2. Following the listing of Boko Haram for the killing and maiming of children and attacks on schools and hospitals, Nigeria was included as a country situation in my annual report on children and armed conflict (A/68/878-S/2014/339), issued in May 2014. In December 2014, the in-country monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave violations was initiated. Shortly thereafter, in January 2015, my Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict visited Nigeria and launched the country task force on monitoring and reporting. In June 2015 and April 2016, respectively, Boko Haram and the Civilian Joint Task Force were listed in the annexes to my annual reports on the recruitment and use of children (see A/69/926-S/2015/409 and A/70/836-S/2016/360). Following a request by the Security Council in its resolution 2225 (2015) to list parties to conflict that engage in the abduction of children, Boko Haram was also included in the annexes to my report of April 2016 (A/70/836-S/2016/360) for that violation.

3. From January 2013 until mid-2015, the verification of incidents was challenging, owing to the volatile security situation in north-eastern Nigeria and the lack of access to the populations most affected by the conflict. As the Nigerian security forces retook territory from Boko Haram in 2015 and 2016, the country task force on monitoring and reporting was able to verify an increasing number of incidents. Some areas remained inaccessible, however, and violations are likely to be underreported. Therefore, in addition to verified violations in areas where access was possible, the present report describes trends based on credible information on incidents and a comprehensive analysis.

II. Political and security developments

A. Political developments 4. From October 2012 until April 2013, the Government, civil society and influential community leaders embarked upon negotiations with Boko Haram to reach a political settlement. The former President, Goodluck Jonathan, set up a 26-member committee to lead this process; however, the initiative met with limited success.

5. In May 2013, the Senate endorsed the declaration of a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States, enabling the Federal Government to deploy security forces and conduct military operations against Boko Haram. This period witnessed a significant deterioration in the humanitarian situation, the temporary shutdown of the Maiduguri airport and the closure of all schools in north-eastern States from December 2013 to June 2015.

6. In May 2015, following a tense build-up but a largely peaceful general election, the President, Mohammed Buhari, was sworn in and he appointed his Cabinet in November 2015. Following the change in Government, access for the United Nations to conflict-affected areas improved and allowed for the provision of increased support services to victims, as well as the improved documentation and verification of grave violations. The Government also undertook a number of initiatives to enhance the protection of children, which are outlined in section VII of the report.

B. Security developments 7. Throughout 2013 and the first half of 2014, the security and humanitarian situation in north-eastern Nigeria deteriorated significantly. A joint humanitarian assessment conducted in September 2013 by the National Emergency Management Agency, the United Nations and the Nigerian Red Cross, estimated that approximately 5.9 million people in the north-east had been affected by the conflict. In this regard, by December 2014, 389,281 internally displaced persons (54 per cent of whom were children) were identified in Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe States, according to the Displacement Tracking Matrix.1 Borno State was not included in the assessment owing to inaccessibility.

8. In late 2014 and early 2015, Boko Haram controlled large swathes of territory, including 12 of 27 local government areas in Borno, 5 of 21 in Adamawa and 2 of 17 in Yobe. By February 2015, an estimated 800,000 children were internally displaced and at least 192,000 persons (52 per cent of whom were children) had sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

9. Late 2014 also witnessed the progressive expansion of Boko Haram’s activities into Cameroon, Chad and the Niger, including the cross-border recruitment, killing, maiming and abduction of children as well as attacks on schools. The threat of Boko Haram to regional stability prompted military operations to be conducted through the Multinational Joint Task Force, comprising troops from the Lake Chad Basin countries and Benin. In January 2015, Boko Haram overran the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force in Baga, Nigeria. Subsequently, the expansion of the Task Force was expedited, with troop numbers increasing and the headquarters relocated to N’Djamena.

10. In April 2015, Boko Haram renamed itself the Islamic State West Africa, announcing allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In June 2015, in conjunction with the Civilian Joint Task Force and other pro-Government local groups, the Nigerian security forces intensified their military operations. The involvement of the Civilian Joint Task Force significantly bolstered the military response and towards the end of 2015, the Nigerian security forces had liberated 67 locations, mainly in and around the Sambisa forest, and in Marta and Damboa local government areas in Borno State. According to the Nigerian security forces, only two local government areas were under Boko Haram’s control (Abadam and Mobar, Borno State) by the end of 2015. In December 2015, the Federal Government announced that it had “technically defeated” the group.

11. As Boko Haram was pushed back, the group reverted to attacks on “soft targets”, including suicide attacks, which increased from 26 in 2014 to 191 in the period from January 2015 to December 2016 in Nigeria. Children were increasingly used in these attacks, which spread from north-eastern Nigeria to Cameroon, Chad and the Niger, where 111 suicide attacks were recorded during the reporting period.

12. In 2016, the Nigerian security forces liberated an additional 119 villages and areas, including the two remaining local government areas held by Boko Haram. Reports in this period indicated that Boko Haram elements and their families were surrendering in large numbers to the Nigerian security forces, in part as the result of worsening living conditions. It is estimated that more than 25,000 former Boko Haram captives were also rescued by the Nigerian security forces or escaped between October 2015 and June 2016. For instance, in March 2016, the Nigerian security forces and the Forces armées camerounaises reportedly separated 11,595 Boko Haram captives in Adamawa and Borno States, in particular along the border with Cameroon.

13. During this period, operations against Boko Haram resulted in further displacement of the population. As at December 2016, the Displacement Tracking Matrix indicated that there were 2,152,000 displaced persons within Nigeria, including more than 1 million children, and more than 460,000 people were refugees or internally displaced in neighbouring countries. In Borno State, 13 “satellite” camps for internally displaced persons were set up and, at the time of writing in January 2017, run by the Nigerian security forces, which compromised their civilian nature and created additional risks of violations against children. In particular, children associated with the Civilian Joint Task Force were observed providing security in the camps.


IV. Grave violations against children

26. In 2013 and the first half of 2014, Boko Haram was the main perpetrator of grave violations, in particular the killing, maiming and abduction of children, as well as attacks on schools and hospitals. In the second half of 2014 and the beginning of 2015, Boko Haram intensified attacks and changed tactics from hit- and-run attacks on public institutions to attacking towns and villages and holding territory. During that period, incidents of child recruitment and use, abductions and sexual violence increased and Boko Haram continued to be the main perpetrator of grave violations. At the same time, the Civilian Joint Task Force was recruiting and using children to support the Nigerian security forces in their operations.

27. From mid-2015 to the end of the reporting period, as Boko Haram elements were pushed back by the Nigerian security forces, they reverted to hit-and-run attacks. They used girls to perpetrate suicide bombings and intensified the use of improvised explosive devices-as-landmines. In the same period, the Nigerian security forces encountered large numbers of people in areas previously held by Boko Haram. The Nigerian security forces and regional forces arrested significant numbers of suspected members of Boko Haram, including children, for their alleged association with Boko Haram.

28. The loss of territory by Boko Haram from mid-2015, combined with the large number of victims encountered by the Nigerian security forces, facilitated United Nations access and allowed greater documentation and verification of grave violations towards the end of the reporting period.

A. Recruitment and use of children 29. While the recruitment and use of children was widespread in the north-east, a highly volatile security situation, the fear of disclosing identities by victims and families and the lack of access to affected populations hampered the ability of the United Nations to verify incidents. Estimates indicate, however, that at least 8,000 children have been recruited and used by Boko Haram since 2009. According to the leadership of the Civilian Joint Task Force, by the end of 2016, their strength was an estimated 26,000 members, which reportedly included many boys between 10 and 18 years of age. Boko Haram

30. Boko Haram reportedly benefited from a fertile recruitment ground for youth recruits early on in the conflict owing to perceived social injustice as well as high levels of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment in the north-east. Abduction was also a prevalent tactic for the recruitment and use of children, as highlighted in section IV.E of the report. Between July 2015 and December 2016, the recruitment and use of 1,650 children (1,010 boys and 640 girls) in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States were verified. Credible accounts were also received of the association of children as young as four years old with the group. With the regional spillover of Boko Haram’s activities, the cross-border recruitment and use of children were also documented.

31. Testimonies of those who were separated from Boko Haram underlined that children not only ended up in the ranks of the group through abduction, but also owing to financial incentives, peer pressure and familial ties. This included instances of parents giving up their children for economic gain or to obtain security guarantees. In Maiduguri, two religious schools also targeted school dropouts and were major settings for child recruitment up until 2014.

32. Children were used in direct hostilities, for planting improvised explosive devices and burning schools and houses and in support roles such as cooks, messengers and lookouts. Children were also reportedly used as human shields to protect Boko Haram elements during military operations. Many children were also subjected to forceful religious conversions and forced marriage and used for sexual purposes. Predominately from mid-2014 to the end of the reporting period, children, including girls as young as 10, were used by Boko Haram in suicide bombings. A total of 90 children (70 girls and 20 boys; 27 in Cameroon, 16 in Chad, 3 in the Niger and 44 in Nigeria) were used in 56 incidents of suicide attacks. This number comprised 4 girls who were used in 2014, 40 girls and 16 boys in 2015 and 26 girls and 4 boys in 2016.

33. Towards the end of the reporting period, as the Nigerian security forces separated people in the course of military operations, the full scale of the association of children with Boko Haram started to be documented. For example, in 2015, of the 1,010 children (422 boys and 588 girls) encountered or rescued during the course of military operations in north-eastern Nigeria, 204 children (117 girls and 87 boys) had been recruited and used. In January 2016, 134 boys who had been recruited by Boko Haram surrendered to the 7th Infantry Division of the Nigerian security forces after taking part in hostilities for nearly two years in the Sambisa forest.


B. Killing and maiming 45. Civilians, including children, were killed and maimed as a result of attacks by Boko Haram on towns, villages, roads and public places and also as a result of suicide bombings, confrontations between Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces, improvised explosive device attacks and landmines. According to an in-depth United Nations mapping exercise, at least 17,073 persons were killed and 28,788 others were wounded in 1,156 incidents in the north-east during the reporting period.

C. Rape and other forms of sexual violence 54. Incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children were challenging to document and the verification of cases was only possible later in the reporting period. However, it is estimated by the United Nations that at least 7,000 girls and women have suffered from sexual violence perpetrated by Boko Haram since 2009, including following abductions and during forced marriage. During the reporting period, the United Nations verified 199 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence affecting 217 children.

D. Attacks on schools and hospitals 59. Starting in 2011, Boko Haram targeted public and private schools that they perceived as providing a Western curriculum. In the north-east, the United Nations estimated that 1,500 schools had been destroyed since 2014, with at least 1,280 casualties among teachers and students.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Feb 23, 2021

This is very old report. albeit, relevant stakeholders need more current reports.

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